FEW Bourbon Whiskey
93 Proof – FEW Spirits
A new whiskey is making its mark in an area best known for its illegal booze and Al Capone. This time, it’s nice and legal.
Deep dish pizza. Steak. The Sears tower. Fires, floods, freezing temperatures. Not to mention reversing the flow of a major river. Chicago is famous for more than its chip-on-the-shoulder, “Second City” attitude. But while its culinary and tourism scenes have rightly had their own draws for centuries, until recently its alcoholic beverage offerings were considered fodder for a Boardwalk Empire side-story. It wasn’t the city for craft drinks, but was instead well known as a place where Prohibition and organized crime made Al Capone the king of the underground.
FEW Spirits gives a delightfully irreverent nod to that history while seeking to legitimize that reputation. Like many whiskies, it takes its name from a historical figure; unlike many whiskies, that historical figure is neither family nor famous. FEW isn’t fabricating an inauthentic lineage by borrowing the name of a long dead distiller, but instead pays humorous homage to someone who tried to put a stop to that industry: Francis Elizabeth Willard, head of Evanston’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. In another nod to history, their wood-block-like labels portray different attractions at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, better known as the World’s Fair. The Chicago fair scenes denote a pride of place fitting for a company that considers itself a “grain to glass” operation, buying its raw ingredients locally from farming cooperatives.
What they’re doing—from the regionally sourced rye to the tightly grained, heavily charred, low-volume barrels they use for aging—works. The bourbon is pleasantly light and airy; not much chew or heft to this one. The nose immediately jumped out as sweet corn to me, with really ethereal floral undertones—rose, in particular—and baked brown sugar that turns to definite caramel on the palate while remaining…thin isn’t the right word for it…but truly light. I’ve heard this compared to a clear spirit like gin and I wouldn’t disagree, but it’s much more flavorful. The sugar and caramel lead to a mildly peppery butterscotch finish without being too sweet or spicy, and even at 93 proof, it doesn’t sting.
This is a really nice bourbon, and a brand that I could easily see expanding in the next few years. If their overall production doesn’t increase dramatically, recent write-ups in Men’s Journal, GQ, and Popular Mechanics almost ensure that their reputation and name recognition will. Their website has a helpful “Find the FEW” page mapping their distribution, with sales clustered in the midwest and California. If you’re the kind of bourbon drinker who likes that rare bottle your friends can’t find (and I feel this qualifier is a bit redundant after the label “bourbon drinker”) this is a bottle you’ll want to have on your shelf after that next business trip to Chicago.
Value: High—at $50, this is hardly a steal, but considering its scarcity and the craft model, not to mention its quality, you’ll want to pick it up if you see a bottle.
Drinkability: High—a smooth bourbon for neat or rocks drinking, I’d be worried its mild tones would be lost in a cocktail.
Overall Rating: 8.4